Flashlights that won't leave you in the dark
need to do two simple things: Turn on, and be bright.
So when a
flashlight lets us down -- well, let's just say it's frustrating. Especially
when we desperately grab it during an emergency (blackout, flat tire at night, etc.)
... and realize it has sucked all of its batteries dry,
just dozing on the shelf since the last blackout.
haven't bought a new flashlight lately (or you've been relying on 99-cent
bargain-bin cheapies), you might be surprised to learn that modern technology
has actually built a better flashlight. You just have to know which one to
pick. Here are some pointers:
- You don't have to spend a lot. Our Best Flashlight pick costs $30. Our
favorite little handheld rechargeable costs just $9.
- LED beats incandescent. LED bulbs shine exponentially brighter and
gobble far fewer batteries than old-fashioned incandescents. And these days,
any decent LED flashlight shines a pleasant, white light (not the garish,
blue-tinged glare you'll suffer with the 99-cent cheapies). All of our top
picks are LED flashlights.
- Batteries or rechargeable? Each has its advantages. Rechargeable
flashlights eliminate battery hassles (dead batteries, weak batteries, expired
batteries, forgot to buy batteries, etc.). On the other hand, traditional
replaceable-battery flashlights need no recharge time -- just slip in some
fresh batteries and keep going. For emergency use, for obvious reasons, battery
powered flashlights are the only reasonable choice.
best flashlights are tough, bright, reliable and reasonably priced. We dug
through expert tests and owner reviews to find out which flashlights make the
MagLite makes the best flashlights, big or small
When in doubt, buy a MagLite. That's the
consensus of owners at every single retail website we checked. Thousands of state
troopers, paramedics, and just everyday people have written reviews of MagLite
flashlights -- and very few of them can find any flaws.
You can buy MagLites in any size, from
tiny keychain lights to arm-length-long monsters that swallow six D batteries.
But for most reviewers, the (Est. $30) hits the sweet
spot. This flashlight can cast its beam over a quarter-mile, and it can run 80
hours on one set of three D batteries.
MagLite says it can withstand a
1-meter drop and five minutes of rain or splashing -- but reviews say that's understating
its ruggedness. "MagLite set the standard for tough flashlights,"
Popular Mechanics' Steve Rousseau says, and it aces his flashlight-abuse test.
He uses it to pound 12 iron tent stakes into the ground (its rugged
anodized-aluminum body gets some shallow dents); runs over it with a 1973 MGB
(minor scrapes); submerges it for 7 hours (it works perfectly afterward); and drops
it 25 feet onto concrete ("big dent in the barrel but still shining").
Users are no less gentle. MagLites
have been dropped in toilets, campfires, down cliffs and more, and all still
worked perfectly, their owners report at Amazon.com.
The MagLite LED 3-Cell blasts 168
lumens. Twist the head, and the beam narrows from floodlight to long-range
spotlight. Plenty of LED flashlights boast more lumens, but reviews say they
tend to start dimming immediately, gobble a set of batteries every couple of
hours or just can't out-tough the MagLite. MagLite backs all of its flashlights
with a lifetime warranty against defects in parts and workmanship for the life
of the original owner. MagLites are made in the U.S.A., too, which reviewers
Every size MagLite earns equally
stellar ratings. For those that want something smaller, the (Est. $22) actually shines brighter than the MagLite LED 3-Cell (272 lumens), amazing
owners at every retail website we checked. It's built just as tough, too,
owners report, with the same twist-to-focus LED beam. At 6.5 inches long and 4
ounces, it's easy to slip into a pocket or bag.
The tradeoff? The Mini Pro can't shine
quite as far as the bigger MagLite (although still 163 meters -- more than a
football field and a half), and it'll drain a set of two AA batteries in two
and a half hours. For just a dollar or two more, the (Est. $24) adds a Low setting that can sip on one set of batteries
for 27 hours -- good for situations where you don't particularly need or want a
blindingly bright light.
Tactical flashlights: Tiny but tough
Tactical flashlights were originally
developed for the military and police, but more and more civilians are buying
them. Tactical flashlights are palm-sized, rugged and dazzlingly bright --
enough to temporarily blind an enemy -- with a thumb-operated switch on the tail
end. When you grip a tactical flashlight in your fist, the head and tail (which
often have toothed edges) will stick out past your hand, so it makes an
effective striking weapon.
You could spend hundreds of dollars on
a tactical flashlight, but reviews say that's not necessary. The reasonably
priced (Est. $45) earns the most
Firearms and tactical trainer Mike
Seeklander recommends it at ArtOfManliness.com. "If you're looking for a
more affordable tactical flashlight," the Protac 2L is
described by Seeklander as "more than enough to blind an attacker
so you can escape and evade." It's a customer favorite at Cabelas.com and
The Streamlight 2L is less than 5
inches long and weighs less than 3 ounces, so it's easy to pocket. It shoots
out a powerful 260-lumen LED beam, which lasts for three hours on a set of two small
batteries (CR123A lithiums, included). You can switch to strobe (to disorient
attackers) for 6 hours, or low (when you just want to use it as a flashlight,
without blinding anybody) for 50 hours.
The Streamlight's anodized aluminum
body can survive being submerged in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes and a
2-meter fall. It has an impact-resistant tempered glass lens, and its head and
tailpiece have crenellated edges. Streamlight backs it with a lifetime warranty
against defects (batteries and bulbs, abuse and normal wear excluded).
Rechargeable flashlights: Bye-bye, batteries
A really good rechargeable flashlight
costs more up-front than a battery-powered one -- but there's a reason why some
police departments issue the (Est. $85) as standard
equipment. It's every bit as potent as its battery-powered brother, the Best
Reviewed MagLite LED 3-Cell D ST3D016. Same rugged,
anodized-aluminum body that can survive water and abuse. Same reassuring
heft (about a foot long and nearly 2 pounds). Same mega-bright beam that can
pierce a quarter-mile of darkness, and that can adjust to a floodlight with a
twist of the wrist. Same lifetime warranty.
But the MagCharger has some big
advantages, reviewers say. Since you can keep it in its charging cradle, it'll
always be fully powered and ready when you grab it (bonus: You'll always know
where it is, too). You'll never have to buy batteries. And the MagCharger has
three special modes -- Outdoor, Law Enforcement and Military -- that let you instantly
fire up strobe or momentary beams with the click of a button.
Of course, the MagCharger can't run
for days on a single charge, the way regular full-size MagLites can run for
days on a set of D batteries. Still, the MagCharger will shine its brightest
for 4 hours on a charge, plus, it'll run 17 hours on low (which is still quite
bright, at 148 lumens) and 37 hours on eco (66 lumens).That's plenty for most uses, though you'll also want to keep a battery-powered
flashlight around for emergencies, such as an extended power outage
Owners -- firefighters, farmers, tow
truck drivers -- report that they've relied on the MagCharger for years and it
never fails them. The MagCharger is particularly easy to use, thanks to its
powered cradle. The cradle plugs into the wall or car charger, so you never
have to fiddle with the plug again -- just slip the entire flashlight in and
out of the cradle. A cheaper rechargeable MagLite, the (Est. $60) gets good feedback, too, but reviews say it's less convenient
because you have to take the battery out and charge it separately.
MagLite offers the MagCharger LED
RL1019 with various power adapters. For example, Amazon.com sells it for $70
packaged with a 12-volt car charger, or $85 with both car charger and regular
120-volt wall plug. A 230-volt converter and 12-volt straight wire are also
If these MagLite rechargeable
flashlights are too tall an order for your budget, for less than $10, the diminutive (Est. $9) is worth
considering. It can't match the majestic MagCharger -- but owners say it's just
about the handiest little flashlight around.
Cheap flashlights are usually dim, flimsy
battery hogs. But the Energizer shines long and bright, survives being dropped
and just generally seems to last forever, owners say. Convenience-wise,
Energizer has thought of everything: The little flashlight has a flip-out plug
that sticks directly into an ordinary wall socket (without blocking the other
socket), so it'll always be charged up, and you'll always know where to find
it. If the power goes out, the Energizer lights up automatically. It'll run for
3.5 hours on High, or longer on Low.
The Energizer won't light up your
entire backyard, like the MagCharger will, but it's certainly bright enough for
ordinary household use. In fact, some owners say that although they own more
powerful flashlights, the handy little Energizer is the one they grab most
Expert & User Review Sources
To find the toughest flashlight, Popular Mechanics thoroughly abuses four popular flashlights (a MagLite, a cheap
Rayovac and two flashy $300 models) and unmasks one as a surprising wimp. A
professional firearms and tactical trainer names his preferred tactical
flashlights at ArtOfManliness.com. But otherwise, "expert"
flashlight reviews are few and far between -- except for the police officers,
firefighters, and others for whom a good flashlight is literally a lifesaver
(plus thousands of everyday owners) who post candid reviews at retail websites
including Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Cabelas.com and BHPhotoVideo.com.